Countless Universes and Critical Horses: Two Anecdotes about Alexander (Aelian 2.3 and 4.28)

(I know I have been painting this site with an Aelian brush, but these two anecdotes are too precious).

2.3: “When Alexander gazed at a likeness of himself in Ephesus painted by Apelles, he didn’t praise it to the worth of its craftsmanship. After his horse approached and neighed toward the horse in the image as if it were real, Apelles said “King, your horse seems to appreciate art much more than you do.”

᾿Αλέξανδρος θεασάμενος τὴν ἐν ᾿Εφέσῳ εἰκόνα ἑαυτοῦ τὴν ὑπὸ ᾿Απελλοῦ γραφεῖσαν οὐκ ἐπῄνεσε κατὰ τὴν ἀξίαν τοῦ γράμματος. ἐσαχθέντος δὲ τοῦ ἵππου καὶ χρεμετίσαντος πρὸς τὸν ἵππον τὸν ἐν τῇ εἰκόνι ὡς πρὸς ἀληθινὸν καὶ ἐκεῖνον ‘ὦ βασιλεῦ’ εἶπεν ὁ ᾿Απελλῆς, ‘ἀλλ’ ὅ γε ἵππος ἔοικέ σου γραφικώτερος εἶναι κατὰ πολύ.

4.28:  “I am unable to resist laughing at Alexander the son of Philip if, indeed, when he heard what Democritus says in his writings–that there are endless numbers of universes–he was upset that he wasn’t even master of the one we all share. How much would Democritus have laughed at him, do I even need to say, when laughter was his job?”

Οὐ γὰρ δὴ δύναμαι πείθειν ἐμαυτὸν μὴ γελᾶν ἐπ’ ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ τῷ Φιλίππου, εἴ γε ἀπείρους ἀκούων εἶναί τινας κόσμους λέγοντος Δημοκρίτου ἐν τοῖς συγγράμμασιν ὃ δὲ ἠνιᾶτο μηδὲ τοῦ ἑνὸς καὶ κοινοῦ κρατῶν. πόσον δ’ ἂν ἐπ’ αὐτῷ Δημόκριτος ἐγέλασεν αὐτός, τί δεῖ καὶ λέγειν, ᾧ ἔργον τοῦτο ἦν;

Euripides, fr. 25 (Aeolus): On old Men, Lurking and Thinking


“Alas, the ancient proverb holds well:

We old men are nothing other than a sound

and an image, lurking imitations of dreams.

We have no mind and but we think we know how to think well.”


φεῦ φεῦ, παλαιὸς αἶνος ὡς καλῶς ἔχει·

γέροντες οὐδέν ἐσμεν ἄλλο πλὴν ψόφος

καὶ σχῆμ’, ὀνείρων δ’ ἕρπομεν μιμήματα·

νοῦς δ’ οὐκ ἔνεστιν, οἰόμεσθα δ’ εὖ φρονεῖν.


This is certainly uplifting. Not sure if I prefer to age with Euripides in mind or this:


Democritus, fr. 296


“Old age is the perfect handicap: it has everything and lacks everything.”


γῆρας ὁλόκληρός ἐστι πήρωσις·

πάντ’ ἔχει καὶ πᾶσιν ἐνδεῖ.


If not, maybe we can take some solace in Pindar:


Pindar, Olympian 4.25-27

“Sometimes even young men grow grey hair before the right time of life”


φύονται δὲ καὶ νέοις

ἐν ἀνδράσιν πολιαί

θαμάκι παρὰ τὸν ἁλικίας ἐοικότα χρόνον


But if we get too high on that, we can always rely on Cicero to bring us back to earth:


Cicero, On Old Age 24

“No one is so old that he thinks he could not live another year”

nemo enim est tam senex qui se annum non putet posse vivere

Democritus, Fr.114



“It is better to be praised by another than by oneself.”


βέλτερον ὑφ’ ἑτέρου ἢ ὑφ’ ἑαυτοῦ  ἐπαινέεσθαι.


Mutatis Mutandis Much the same can be said for many human activities…but not all. For instance, is it better to be blamed by another than oneself?


Democritus, the laughing philosopher!